Cruel Intentions and Social Conventions: Locating the Shame in Revenge Porn
This chapter addresses the criminalization of “revenge porn” in England and Wales under the 2015 Criminal Justice and Courts Act (CJC Act). Revenge porn is a particular form of online abuse that mainly harms women and is mainly conducted by men. One of the most common emotional responses to revenge porn is shame. Owing to this, this chapter sets out to assess (1) the conditions that enable revenge porn to perform shaming of women and (2) the CJC Act’s ability to target these conditions. This chapter argues that, in terms of its ability to address the conditions that enable revenge porn to perform the shaming of women, the CJC Act falls short. The law only captures cases in which it can be proven that the alleged perpetrator acted with an intention to cause distress. Essentially, it fails to address how revenge porn is an inherently social form of online abuse: revenge porn can only perform the shaming of women when the audience recognizes it as such. Indeed, that which enables revenge porn to operate so successfully as an act of shaming women is pre-existing social conventions with regard to sexual depictions of female bodies and sexuality. This chapter thus states that the shaming in revenge porn is primarily enabled by social conventions, not individual intentions. As it stands, the CJC Act is therefore a futile legal tool for striking revenge porn at its gendered core.
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